We were bound to come across something like this eventually: a movie best described as "The Big Chill for Generation X." Yep, if you grew up during the early to mid-'80s, you'll probably find a whole lot to like in Sarah Kelly's The Lather Effect -- and I'm not just talking about the funky soundtrack so overstuffed with '80s classics that it'd make John Hughes green with envy. Equal parts witty, warm and almost painfully nostalgic, The Lather Effect might not be as professionally-crafted as is The Big Chill, but the sentiments are the same -- and the cast, while not as flashy, is just as strong.
The plot's as simple as the one found in Kasdan's film (or perhaps even The Breakfast Club): A gang of old high school pals, the members of which are all firmly stuck in their mid-30s, get together for one (probably final) night of drunken debauchery, salacious sexiness, and good old fashioned mayhem. The music, the fashions and the memories are yanked from two decades worth of mothballs, and of course a lot of old "personal" issues are coming home to roost. But Kelly's not all that interested in the actual party. The Lather Effect actually opens on the morning after a certifiably insane shin-dig, which starts the flick off on the right foot: We're not here to revel with the friends as they have a ball; we're there to watch them clean up the mess, get things organized, and reminisce over all the good times.
I'll spare you the details of each character's flaws, foibles and specific neuroses, but here's who we've got on board the nostalgia train: Connie Britton as the hard-partying ringleader, Sarah Clarke as the good girl, Tate Donovan as the semi-stuffy one, David Herman as the fallen star, Peter Facinelli as the little brother, Caitlin Keats as the sweetly unattainable, William Mapother as the former BMOC, Ione Skye as the sweetheart, and Eric Stoltz as the party-guy from next door. It helps The Lather Effect immeasurably to have a cast like this, particularly when it comes to folks like Skye, Stoltz and Donovan. The actors have some real "80s cred" that adds a lot of color to the proceedings.
Director Sarah Kelly, whose last (and only) directorial credit came on the fantastic "making of" documentary Full Tilt Boogie, wrangles herself a surprisingly effective ensemble for her feature film debut, and even if some of the flick's more poignant moments seem a bit forced (and occasionally telegraphed), it's blatantly evident (at least to this particular mid-30s guy) that the emotion on display in The Lather Effect come from a sincere and heartfelt place. Towards the end of the movie I found myself thinking "If this character sleeps with that one, I'm gonna be really annoyed with this movie" -- which tells me that not only was I invested in the story of these fictional folks, but I was also rooting for The Lather Effect to satisfy me. (And I won't spoil anything by dishing out details, but I will say that the final third of TLE is the best section of the film.)
Anyone who's ever woken up one morning and wondered "Jeez, where'd the last ten years go? I sure don't feel 34!" will find a lot to relate with here. It's not a drop-dead hilarious movie (although it does deliver a solid parcel of chuckles), nor is it the most stunningly insightful piece of "let's look back" storytelling ever conceived -- but as a guy who lived through the precise era being celebrated in The Lather Effect, I say my Class of '90 brethren will have a pretty damn good time with this movie.